05/23/2001 12:00AM

Cadman: Top apprentice, with a difference


STICKNEY, Ill. - The Hawthorne jockeys' room is subterranean and feels something like the lounge in a Greyhound bus terminal. The crowded card game in progress Monday morning was entirely in character. Zoe Cadman's oversized fluffy pink bunny slippers, propped up on a table in front of a television, were not.

Gregarious, charming, and refreshingly down to earth, Cadman does not care for cards, but she has made her way in this male-dominated universe since last summer with surprisingly little friction.

No one will accuse her of being a typical apprentice jockey. She's a 26-year-old South African whose close-cropped hair has been dyed a million different shades (and now is blonde). And less than a year after she began race-riding, Cadman was leading the jockey standings at Hawthorne through last week. Behind her are such accomplished riders as Randy Meier and Ray Sibille, who between them have won more than 7,500 races, and such well regarded young riders as Alfredo Juarez Jr. Cadman's success comes only months after Kris Prather, another female apprentice rider, led the jockey standings at Turfway Park's Holiday and winter-spring meetings.

But it's not just her gender, not her somewhat advanced age, not her hair, not her constant bright smile, not even her quick success that sets Cadman apart from other apprentice jockeys. She's atypical in the way she rides. Most apprentice jocks attract business because of the weight allowance they get, 10 pounds, then seven, then five, as the winners mount. They often are put on speed horses, and the instructions they receive are simple: Go to the lead and try to finish.

Until recently, Cadman hated riding on the lead. Her greatest asset appears to be getting a horse to relax, waiting patiently for a race to unfold, then making a smart tactical move. Those are qualities usually found in a seasoned professional, not an apprentice.

"Most of the time, I forget she even has the bug," said Christine Janks, a Chicago-based trainer who uses Cadman regularly.

"She's not scared of anything," said trainer Richie Scherer, another major source of mounts for Cadman. "She's fearless out there, and she's not scared to come back and say she made a mistake."

The bunny slippers and the white terry-cloth robe would soon be replaced Monday morning by a rubber jogging suit. Cadman, who can make 108 pounds, had a couple pounds to shed before her first mount, and was going out for a jog through the heavyily industrial neighborhood that surrounds Hawthorne.

The streets of Stickney, Ill., are a far cry from bucolic Somerset, England, where Cadman spent her childhood. Cadman and her twin brother were born in Johannesburg, South Africa, where her father had gone for work, but the family moved back to England when Cadman was 6. Cadman rode ponies when she was a child, and her mother kept horses on their acreage. At 15, Cadman left school and moved away from home, her sights set on a riding career.

Cadman started out at an eventing yard, then gravitated to racing, working first at a point-to-point yard (non-parimutuel steeplechase horses) in Newberry, then at the famous training center at Newmarket. Cadman went to work for the trainer Sir Mark Prescott and was surprised to find that all his employees, like her, were 16-year-olds. "It was the worst-paying job in Newmarket," Cadman said.

Prescott was old-fashioned and demanding, Cadman said, but she liked working for him - which is typical of Cadman. She doesn't hesitate to speak her mind about people and situations, but she's fair-minded and makes the best of what's presented her. There are no tales of woe, even though she has worked long and hard to get where she is.

"She knew what she wanted to do a long time ago," said trainer Chris Speckert. Cadman galloped horses for Speckert a few years ago, her second job after coming to the U.S. when it became apparent that, as a woman, she had no chance of riding competitively in England.

"Zoe's happy-go-lucky, but she's mature enough to make the breaks and take what she can," Speckert said. "She's not just some kid someone decided to put on some horses. She's worldly. She's influenced by what she's done her whole life, not the success she's had in the last six or 10 months."

And she can ride - a natural, people say. "When she was breezing horses, she didn't look like she was doing much," Speckert said. "But they ran for her. Some people, horses just run for them."

"She breezed all the good horses in my barn," said trainer Mike Stidham. Stidham gave Cadman her first ride last summer - a winning one. "She's got a mentality like Julie Krone, where she liked the animals and they seem to respond to that."

Cadman treats the horses she rides as individuals and pays close attention to their quirks and habits. "She remembers every horse she rode, even if it was six or seven months ago," Janks said.

When she first came to the U.S. six years ago, Cadman galloped for trainer Michael Dickinson in South Carolina. Dickinson taught her to read the Daily Racing Form and taught her to ride like an American. Said Cadman, "He'd have us on the gallops and he'd yell, 'Assume the American position.' "

Cadman said she had no trouble adapting, and she benefited greatly from her time with Dickinson, once a champion steeplechase trainer in England. She rode a couple point-to-point races for him. "He thought I should go to Atlantic City and ride," Cadman said. "But I thought I wasn't ready."

There were also immigration issues that prevented her from launching her career. Cadman has a work permit now, but for several years she had green card problems. Cadman was content to wait until the time was ripe. For three years, her red pants were a ubiquitous presence in training races at the Fair Grounds.

Finally, she decided to leap into competition last year. "Last summer, Mike [Stidham] asked me, 'What are you waiting for?' "Cadman said she wasn't nervous when her horse broke out of the starting gate in her first race.

"I do remember Earlie Fires going to the lead," she said. "I just wanted to take back and let the speed go. On the turn, I said, 'Damn, I'm catching up to them, I'd better do something.' "

She did something. She won. And winning her first race was a huge boost to her business. By the end of the Arlington meeting, Cadman, with help from agent Bobby Kelly, had won 23 races despite missing six weeks with a broken pelvis.

Cadman's riding style is not refined yet. She doesn't finish with the power of an established male jockey, and sometimes her horses drift in through the stretch. Her work with the whip has improved, but she's still not fluid with it. "My first time with a whip [in a race], [jockey Mark] Guidry said to me, 'You look pretty good out there. But, my god, what happens when you pick up that stick?' "Since Cadman's strengths are those of a journeyman, not an apprentice, don't expect her to disappear when she loses her bug this August. She'll still be out pounding the barns for business in the morning. People will appreciate her coming around, because they need her help during training hours and because they like seeing her.

"This business can get a little grim at times," Janks said. "Zoe's kind of a bright light in that grimness."

Hawthorne Jockey Standings

(May 1 through May 22)



Cadman Z. 89 15 11 11 .17

Emigh C.A. 101 13 11 12 .13

Meier R. 86 11 10 8 .13

Laviolette B.S. 80 10 15 10 .13

Silva C.H. 63 10 9 7 .16

Razo E. Jr. 62 10 3 8 .16

Lasala J. 40 9 5 7 .23

Perez E.E. 56 8 10 10 .14

Juarez A.J. Jr. 57 8 8 9 .14

Sibille R. 69 7 7 7 .10